Minister Responsible for Seniors Warren Kaeding has responded to a report from the Saskatoon Council on Aging that calls for action to reduce the impact of the pandemic on seniors.
The report describes concerns about quality of life, isolation and depression experienced by older adults due to pandemic safety measures, such as restrictions on family visitation at long-term care homes.
"We acknowledge that this is a stressful time. Mental health services and supports are available to Saskatchewan residents who need them during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Kaeding in a written response to questions about the report.
The report, entitled Beyond the Pandemic, Re-Opening Saskatchewan: A Call to Action for a More Age-friendly Community, calls for the creation of a task force that would provide advice and guidance on provincial pandemic planning and response strategies.
"It would bring together experts on aging including older adults, researchers, policy makers and civil society to examine immediate impacts and longer-term implications of pandemic response policy and planning on the lives of older people," said the recommendation in the report.
Asked if the government would adopt the recommendation to create such a team, Minister Kaeding said existing pandemic measures were created with input from focus groups.
Health officials will continue to reassess: Minister
"It is my understanding that the [Saskatchewan Health Authority] will continue to consult with older adults, families, caregivers and other stakeholders to better understand the impact that public health measures, and restricted visiting guidelines, have on older persons," said Kaeding.
"Public health officials continue to reassess the national and provincial public health risks, based on the best available evidence as the situation evolves."
Restrictions on family access to long-term care homes, which were put in place early in the pandemic, were loosened in June.
Kaeding said the government is supporting seniors affected by the pandemic through the Saskatchewan Seniors' Mechanism, an agency created in 1990 to improve quality of life for seniors. In March, unrelated to the pandemic, the province gave the group $300,000 to spend over three years on mental health among older adults.
"While not specifically related to the impacts of the pandemic, these supports would be beneficial to seniors facing isolation or other challenges related to the pandemic," said Kaeding.
Pandemic highlights ageism: Report
Candace Skrapek, a member of the committee that authored the report, said the pandemic has highlighted discrimination against older adults.
"One of the most stark and perhaps ... distressing examples that became very apparent quite early was the prevalence of ageism and how ageism was really influencing a number of the policies that were being put in place, but also the direct impact that those policies were having on older people," said Skrapek, in an interview with CBC Radio's Blue Sky.
She said early messaging around COVID-19 focused on older people as the main risk group, leading to some younger people believing the virus does not affect them.
"That's an example of an ageist kind of policy that has implications not just for older people but for citizens," said Skrapek.
She said it is important to note that older adults can range in age from 60 to older than 100, meaning there is great diversity in needs within that age group.
Skrapek said only a small number in that group require supervised care and many play critical roles in the workforce and as caregivers and volunteers.
"Just the same way that infants and children and youth have very distinct characteristics, so too do different older adult generations," said Skrapek.
"And so when we're talking about older people, one size does not fit all."
The SCOA report states that one of its goals is to open a public discussion about ethical responses and protection of human rights during the pandemic.
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